Brush and Pencil

I am regularly asked about applying oil pastels with a brush.  Here is what I do…

brushes and oil pastel in front of my current work-in-progress.

To apply oil pastel undercoat (as you see in this image) I use a size 1 bristle brush.  The brush on the left started off looking like the brush next to it.  Its bristles have been eroded by pushing oil pastel pigment onto the Arches Aquarelle paper.  However a worn-down brush works just fine for my purpose so I will keep using it until I decide to throw it away.  Bristle brushes are inexpensive and easily replaceable.  I go through a brush every two or three drawings.

If I only need a dab of colour I take it directly off the pastel with my brush.  I don’t even need to take the pastel out of its box to do this.

Taking the colour directly off the pastel while it stays in its box.

If I know I am going to need a lot of one colour or I want to mix colours, I slice bits of pastel off with a palette knife and mix the colours on a palette.  (Because the pigment is greasy/sticky pastel I find a ceramic surface makes the best palette ie. a small plate.)   Using mixed pastels on a palette is almost exactly like using oil paint.  Mixed oil pastel pigment on a palette doesn’t dry out so it can be used next day/next week…no problem.

Applying pastel to paper with a brush is a lot like painting with oils.  I plot the areas of colour onto the paper in a general way.  All the fine nuances of colour and detail will be put on with coloured pencils when the pastel undercoat is finished.

If I am making a major change of colour (ie. from purple to pale yellow) then I clean the brush thoroughly with solvent, though wiping the brush with tissue paper between colour changes is usually enough.  With most colour changes I tend to dry-wipe the brush.

If you look back at the top image you will see the very wide bristle brush.  I use this to sweep over pencil AND pastel to blend and soften.  A good example is the image below…

“Time and Space”

In the drawing “Time and Space” pencil has been worked into the pastel.  I have repeatedly brushed across the drawing with the large bristle brush pushing the pencils and pastels together – merging and softening.  Quite often after doing this I will apply more pencil and then repeat the brushing – until I have the effect I want.  WARNING:  If I brush over the top of the red rose with my wide brush I might get red pigment into the surrounds so I am careful not to do this.

In “Time and Space” I wanted a subtle look so I used Caran d’Ache Neopastels for the background undercoat.   They are drier and more gentle than Sennelier pastels.  Only for the bold red rose I used Sennelier.

“Day Trip to Giverny” – I also made the choice of using Neopastels for the entire background undercoat except for the foliage closest to the viewer which I undercoated with Sennelier.  NB:  I don’t slice off bits of Neopastel with a palette knife the way I do with Sennelier.  Neopastel, being harder and drier, doesn’t lend itself to being mixed on a palette the way the more buttery soft Sennelier does.

“Day Trip to Giverny”

I find using oil pastels with coloured pencils much more satisfying than using pencils by themselves.  I feel this combination is a bridge back towards painting – in fact I have given it the name “dry painting“.

I am often asked if I use fixatives or varnishes with this combination.  No, nothing.

“Enchanted April”
November 2017
Sennelier pastels and coloured pencils.

The marriage of oil pastels with coloured pencils gives a work substance and momentum.

The drawing I am working on currently.  (early 2018) This is how it looked last week.

You may see the finished drawing on the post Walking with Claude

PS:  Don’t worry about getting exact undercoat colours because the coloured pencils over the top will modify the colours to perfection.

A cautionary tale:  some artists who use coloured pencils like to brush off pencil dust with a big brush (rather like a brush-and-pan kind of brush).  Don’t indiscriminately do this when using oil pastels.  Oil pastels are oily and sticky.  A piece of pastel dust in the wrong area is likely to smear if you sweep it into your page – and it will not be removable.  Instead, blow it off your paper or if your breath isn’t strong enough, simply lift it off gently with the point of a brush, pencil or putty eraser.  Simple.

The drawing “A Room with a View” is an example of using only coloured pencils but still using a bristle brush to blend them.  No oil pastel is used in this drawing, and yet the result is still ‘painterly’ because of blending with a paint brush.

“A Room with a View” the coloured pencil is blended with a brush.

See also ART MATERIALS page

Another relevant page is MIXED MEDIA IMPRESSIONISM

Night Moves shows another example of this technique, before and after coloured pencil was added to the oil pastels.

Perfect Partners: Luminance and Neocolor shares a slightly different method – without using a brush.


35 thoughts on “Brush and Pencil

      1. hoqueart

        Hi Julie. This blog is a splendid idea for your followers. This really helped me understand your technique a lot more clearer. It’s very interesting. It’s like you’re a painter and a pencilist at the same time. The results are Awesome!

      2. juliepodstolski Post author

        Ah ha. There is a reason for that, David. I was a painter for years before I used CPs. It was painting I studied at art school. This is probably why I was yearning for something more painterly than using 100% cps.

  1. kathleen campisano

    Thank you so much for such an in depth explanation of your process! I so appreciate the visual as well as the written post!! I am anxiously waiting to receive my pastels and hoping that I can duplicate your wonderful technique .

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Dear Kathleen, it is thanks to your recent messages to me that I decided to write this when I got up this morning. I very much enjoyed writing it all down – in fact somehow it was a relief to get it out. I look forward to more dialogue when you are working with your new set.

  2. Padma

    Thank you so much for the valuable information, my 11yr old daughter loves working with color pencils and her works are very detailed. Recently she showed interest to explore oils but not fond of paints and mess 🙂
    This blog post will bring her more thoughts and new ideas to mix both together, this is very helpful!
    Best wishes

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      I’m delighted to be a help to you and your daughter, Padma. If either of you come across any questions when your daughter is trying out these media, please drop me a line. Perhaps I can help out.

  3. anna warren portfolio

    Ah! Now it all becomes clear! You are very generous to share your technique, and in lovely clear detail, you are a good teacher. There are many artists out there who never share their own techniques for fear of someone taking over their territory (like cooks who won’t share recipes). In fact, as you will know, no two people will produce exactly the same result even using the same method, but that doesn’t take away from your generosity of spirit. I will definitely give it another go – my previous attempts have been not good. I have invested in a few Sennelier oil pastels, and they are clearly very different form the cheaper ones. Inspiration!

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      It is just as you say; we are all different – so I’m not expecting to see Podstolskis sprouting all over the show now that I have shared this information on my blog. It is a pity I don’t have shares in Sennelier!!

  4. Sarah Holland

    Oh wow Julie. How very generous to share your wonderful technique. I can’t believe it as I was awestruck seeing your painting with the bridge and the blurry background. Really incredible work and very different from anything I’ve seen. I thought I’d love to know how you got that effect and now I do. So fantastic. I have a large box of Sennelier pastels that I’ve used only once. Seemed to disappear too quickly that I got scared to use them all up. Now I will try them using brushes. So excited to try something new and get to use them. Thank you again so much. Sarah. X

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Hi Sarah, thanks for your message. I find that I hardly use any pastel when using brushes. I’ve hardly made a dent in mine. So I think this must be a very economical way to use the Sennelier pastels. Let me know how you go when you try this technique. Don’t forget to have some sort of solvent on hand to clean your brushes with.

  5. rhodjoy

    Thank you Julie! Much appreciated and very interesting. Love this technique of yours particularly.I always wondered how your paintings weren’t smudged horribly (like mine when I use oil pastels) and the brushes make all the difference. Thanks once again for the demo.

  6. occasionalartist

    Thanks for such an interesting insight into your techniques Julie. I have been looking at the Sennelier oil pastels, I saw that they were designed to work on any surface and made for Picasso. I have followed your technique with Caran d’Ache Neopastels and have really enjoyed working with them. Now I have another reason to save up for these oil pastels. I thought some of my flowers on a wood substrate would be interesting. Ah …. so many materials … so little time. Karen

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      You’ve done your homework, Karen, and know the history of these pastels. Anything made for Picasso must be good!! I’m sure these would be gorgeous on wood. Hurry up and save!

  7. lovecoloredpencils

    THIS! Can we reprint this in the April issue?? It’s perfect!

    Would link to your blog URL or wherever you’d like.

    Ann Kullberg We teach. We inspire. You shine.

    On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 4:52 PM, Julie Podstolski – Abstract Realism wrote:

    > juliepodstolski posted: “I am regularly asked about applying oil pastels > with a brush. Here is what I do… To apply oil pastel undercoat (as you > see in this image) I use a size 1 bristle brush. The brush on the left > started off looking like the brush next to it. Its br” >

  8. rebecca

    Wonderful wonderful work! occasionalartist shared your site with me and I am so glad she did. The result from your technique, or the dry painting is just beautiful, and honestly, sounds like a lot of fun too. You have a new admirer!!

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      So nice to meet you, Rebecca, and thank you to Karen for introducing us. The technique IS fun and fulfilling. I was yearning to paint again but didn’t want to leave behind my coloured pencils. This technique seems to have resolved both issues. Thank you for your lovely message, Rebecca!

  9. Kylie Carney

    Hi Julie, really enjoyed this post and I’m a big fan of your work! I am also a coloured pencil artist and have just bought a set of Neocolor 2s. Have you any advice for what paper to use? I’m finding my usual Stonehenge or Arches HP watercolour paper is buckling if it wet it, and having difficulty getting much definition with the colored pencil on top! Is there something I’m missing? Thanks for any thoughts or advice! Kind regards Kylie

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Hi Kylie, thanks for your question. I don’t use water at all in my process however I’ve been told that Arches Aquarelle 300 gsm (which is what I use) buckles when you first use water but then flattens out when it is dry. You may need to experiment with it. What I think you need to do is ask people who use watercolours. I know some people tape their paper down and wet it to stretch it before they start. I imagine Stonehenge is totally the wrong sort of paper for any wet work and that you do need some sort of heavy watercolour paper. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Hi Diane, I’m so pleased. Do send me any thoughts or questions you have when you start. Perhaps between us we can figure out any issues you might come up against. Thanks for getting in touch.

  10. Jayashree

    I came across your website from the Sharpened artist podcast. I found it interesting as well as inspiring to note that you use oil pastels as a base layer for your colored pencil art. I enjoyed this week’s podcast part 1 and can’t wait for part 2 ! I also thank you for sharing your technique on how you used the oil pastels on your CP artworks in this post. I now know how I can use my oil pastels on my own Color pencil artworks. I also enjoyed reading about your thoughts behind your artworks. I find it to be inspiring. Thanks again for sharing. Best Regards Jayashree

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Hi Jayashree, thanks for writing to me. I was delighted to talk to John Middick, and love the fact that you liked what you heard enough to drop me a line. Enjoy experimenting with your own oil pastels + coloured pencils and please let me know if you have any questions about the process. (Ha ha – I’m looking forward to the second part of the podcast as well as I can’t remember what I actually said!)

  11. Fabienne

    Dear Julie,

    what exactly do you mean by the „dust-issue“ with Neopastel? I tried these and they are very creamy but little flakes appear. But this happens also with Neocolor. So where is the dust? 🙂

    Best regards, Fabienne

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Hi Fabienne, thanks for your question. I’m speaking here to those artists who use coloured pencils and who love to sweep away dust (coloured pencil dust) with a large brush. Lots of coloured pencil artists do this. They seem to get away with it as coloured pencil dust is very dry. But flakes of Neopastel or Sennelier have much more oil in them than pencils. So a flake of pastel that you might not even see, could get swept INTO the paper with a brush, as opposed to swept off the paper.
      If you have an area that is intended to be white or very pale, you don’t want a smear of dark pastel flake to corrupt it. Hence my warning to blow away dust/flakes rather than sweeping. That’s all. Neopastel does not have much dust, as you say, but a particle of it where you don’t want it could be problematic. That is my experience anyway.

      1. Fabienne

        Thank you so much for your explanation! Now I understand! All these articles about art materials and how you use them are really interesting, I just start lerning how to handle oilpastels! Thank you for sharing your experience!
        Greetings from Germany,

  12. juliepodstolski Post author

    Hi again Fabienne, I’m so pleased that you are enjoying the articles on this blog. At the end of 2020 I will put up one or two more explanations. These are articles I have written for art magazines. I will wait for the magazines to publish them first (November and December respectively) and then I will put them on the blog site. Very best wishes from Julie

  13. Pingback: Big flowers – anna warren portfolio

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